Researchers in the Robotics Institute of Carnegie Mellon University’s School of Computer Science are building a robotic prospector for NASA. Called “Scarab,” this fourwheeled concept robot will demonstrate technologies that a lunar rover will need to find concentrations of hydrogen, possibly water and volatile chemicals that could be mined to produce fuel, water and air that are essential for supporting lunar outposts. Scarab is equipped with a Canadian-made drill for obtaining meter-long geological core samples, and it features a novel rocker-arm suspension that enables it to plant its belly on the ground for drilling operations.
“A lunar prospector will face a hostile environment in the perpetual darkness of craters at the moon’s southern pole, where ground temperatures are minus 385 degrees and no energy source is at hand,” said William “Red” Whittaker, the Fredkin Research Professor and principal investigator of the NASA-funded project. “It’s a place where humans can’t work effectively but where Scarab will thrive, even while operating on the electrical power required to illuminate a 100-watt light bulb.” It will use a radio-isotope source that places a premium on energy efficiency, and will rely on new, low-power, laserbased sensors.
The carbon-composite body was designed and built by a team of engineers headed by John Thornton, a student who also builds streamlined racers featured in Carnegie Mellon’s annual Buggy Races. The project is funded through NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston and its In Situ Resource Utilization program.
Carnegie Mellon is a private research university with a distinctive mix of programs in engineering, computer science, robotics, business, public policy, fine arts and the humanities. Carnegie Mellon has campuses in Silicon Valley, CA, and Qatar and programs in Asia, Australia and Europe. For more, see www.cmu.edu.
—Story and photo courtesy of Carnegie Mellon University